Kris Drever is doubtlessly one of the most appealing singers of his generation working the current folk scene. He approaches each song in such a laid-back manner, without sacrificing a scrap of intensity or subtlety. With a distinct talent for interpretation of song that manges to be both robust and sympathetic, Drever’s delivery is unassumingly stirring. He could well be the Christy Moore of his generation: he certainly brings a similarly frank gravity to the songs he tackles.
There are impressive guests abound on Mark The Hard Earth, but it is Tim O’Brien who makes a noticeable impact, with his lonesome vocal harmonies and distinctive fretwork bringing an americana charm to nestle alongside Drever’s unmistakeable Caledonian brogue. The light touch of Roy Dodds’ percussion is the album’s subtle heartbeat, whilst the assured hand of John McCusker takes the production helm.
Sandy Wright’s ubiquitous “Shining Star” swings along nicely, with a nonchalant deference, and Wright is covered again on “Wild Hurricane,” which takes a rather circumspect view of life’s troubles. The carefree pop infusion of Boo Hewerdine’s “Sweet Honey In The Rock” provides the albums lightest moment, whilst “O’ A’ The Airts” demonstrates Drever’s canny skill for bringing an unpretentious contemporary air to traditional material.
Set to the sprightly traditional tune, “Penan Den,” and performed as a duet with Heidi Talbot, “The Banks Of The Nile” receives an illuminating makeover that provides more in the way of hope than despair. Another duet, this time with Karine Polwart, is on Hamish Henderson’s resplendent “Freedom Come a’ Ye”. The Drever/Polwart partnership is an unsurprisingly well attuned affair, and when you consider the august beauty of Karine’s Fairest Floo’er album, it’s tempting to wonder of the delicious fruits that could be borne from a further exploration of this alliance.
Drever’s skill boils down to the fact that he can take songs from wide and varied sources and imbue them with a character that is recognisably his own; he achieves this in an almost genre-less manner that is likely to further assist his wide appeal. Kris Drever may well be the best friend a song could ever have.
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Review by Mike Wilson